As I write this on the 15th of the month, I am reminded that it was on this day in 44 AD that Caesar was warned to "beware the ides of March". He did not heed the warning from the soothsayer and ended up with a few knives in the back, the last one administered by Brutus whom he thought was his friend.
Caesar's misfortune was that he was not a member of his local GAA club. If he had kept up his membership, played a bit of junior and moved up through various committees, he would have been well versed in the art of watching his back. When I read Páraic Duffy's annual report to Congress I could only conclude that the daggers in the Association are held by those in powerful positions. Many dangerous areas are touched on in the report, the lack of discipline in games, the unwillingness to accept GAA policy with regard to payments to managers and, probably worst of all, the absolute flouting of the closed season.
The frustrations involved in running a sport where decisions that are taken very democratically, and are undermined by many of those taking them, only surface occasionally. Yet Duffy wouldn't be human if he didn't blow a head gasket when he sits down with some county chairmen, knowing that they will allow their own counties do the exact opposite of what is decided at central level.
Another area which Duffy briefly touches on in his report is the perception of the GAA in the wider community. It is a subject I have written on many times. The essential thread of Duffy's argument is that the GAA is not recognised enough on a national scale in the way that many other sports are.
He is probably a bit afraid to labour the point in case he is accused of being paranoid, and there are many who see the GAA as some half-wit organisation and would be only too happy to take him up on this. Yet he is absolutely right and the GAA should not apologise to anyone when looking for special recognition in all its dealings with Government -- from education to financial assistance at central level.
There are unique aspects to being Irish and at least some of these are in our language, national games, music and culture. It does not mean that you have to particularly like any of these, but if some or all of them disappeared then there would be few differences between being Irish and some other nationality.
The GAA, therefore, does occupy a central position in Irish life and must be protected to some extent against the great global sports. Now this is no Taliban cry to rid the country of foreign sports, quite the opposite in fact; most Irish people have a favourite English Premier League team, the Irish rugby side had universal support here yesterday and so will the soccer team in the summer. Barry Geraghty was one of the heroes of Cheltenham last week and there are few who have not been watching the rise and rise of Rory McIlroy.
So you can love all sport but still understand that a national game, which is tiny when measured against the might of others, deserves special attention. Anyone who does not respect the merits of other sports is unworthy of involvement in anything. There is a generosity of spirit between sportspeople but there is a negativity to the GAA in some quarters which may have have its origins in the ban and the mentality that accompanied it.
So Páraic Duffy should be pushing the idea of the GAA having a part in the new Junior Cert curriculum and in sport being a subject at Leaving Cert level. In fact, all sports groups should make common cause on this. It would be good for everyone as obesity is supposed to be a huge problem, even if I don't see it in the school where I work. Yet when sport does arrive as a subject, the GAA should be a compulsory part of that and everyone should also be able to specialise in their own favourite.
It is clear from the report that the GAA are very conscious of problems which are emerging in second-level schools -- the scale of cutbacks was discussed at a recent meeting with the Minister for Education. The addition of an extra hour per week in the evenings has posed difficulties with the scheduling of games and it is quite ironic that one of the measures which makes life much more difficult for teachers involved in sport was framed in Croke Park.
Other sports are not so inconvenienced. For example, most rugby schools in Dublin have a half day for games, which is not feasible in towns where school buses service a range of schools. What Duffy wants, and what is entirely reasonable, is that some of the extra time which is allocated under Croke Park could be used in the promotion of football and hurling.
When I think of the hours and hours that some of my staff give to their teams without any recognition, I feel that the system has got it all wrong. Hopefully the GAA at central level will keep up this campaign.
For a while I was getting worried that I was agreeing with almost all of the long and detailed report from the chief of staff, but there is plenty to think about and wonder if there is a better way. It is said that if you agree with nobody you have a serious problem, but if you agree with everyone then the problem is nearly as great.
Anyway, playing rules and their trialling opens a divide. I do agree with Duffy that clear principles must be in place before any new rules are introduced and he writes about the game becoming unattractive. The only clear principle which is missing at the moment is one to ensure that football remains football. If that is the case then the idea which is mooted -- a quick tap on the toe and play on without interference after a foul -- seems to me to be completely contrary to the first principle.
If there are an average of 50 frees in a game, then in theory at least this change could mean almost no kicking at all, apart from kick-outs and shots for scores. It might be manna from heaven for teams like Donegal, but there would be no queues at the turnstiles.
I also feel that the very worst place to trial changes is where Duffy wants them, in the secondary provincial competitions at the start of the year. County players have no interest in new rules and are reluctant to change. They want to keep whatever they are comfortable with and especially so if they feel they are going back to old rules in a few weeks. It would be better to try out new rules with underage teams who embrace change much easier. Variations in rules could then move up over time. Yet getting rid of the square ball rule, or whatever its proper name, is of national urgency.
And if you are a manager, official or player and have survived the ides of March, don't get complacent: there are plenty of ambushes ahead. Be careful with the friends who are watching your back.
Sunday Indo Sport